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Toronto on track to have at least one team in the playoffs, and MLSE is taking that to the bank

Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan (10) and forward Amir Johnson (15) congratulate each other as they walk off the court after defeating the Boston Celtics 99-90 in an NBA basketball game in Boston, Wednesday, March 26, 2014.

Elise Amendola/AP

Now that the question is more when, and not if, the Toronto Raptors will finally nail down that NBA playoff berth, club officials have taken steps to ensure that available post-season tickets will be made available to the public in an orderly fashion.

Dave Hopkinson, the chief commercial officer of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., insists there will be no repeat of the outcry that ensued last year when thousands of Toronto Maple Leaf hockey fans were left frustrated in their efforts to try to order what was a limited number of the Leafs' playoff tickets online.

A computer glitz prevented many from reaching the appropriate web site in which to purchase their tickets through Ticketmaster, and by the time the mistake was identified all the available tickets had already been gobbled up.

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"We wore that," Hopkinson said Thursday over the telephone. "And it won't happen again. Fans will still have to act quickly to get them but we will have thousands of seats available."

Hopkinson said that MLSE has already had several "extensive" meetings with Ticketmaster. "We have a very, very, very, robust technology solution in place to ensure that a repeat of last year will not take place," he said.

Friday night could be the moment that the Raptors kick sand in the face of all the naysayers who predicted nothing but misfortunate for the struggling Canadian franchise when the NBA regular season began five months ago.

A win over the anemic Boston Celtics at the Air Canada Centre or a loss by the New York Knicks, who play in Phoenix against the Suns, will secure the Raptors their first playoff berth since 2008.

That is not a bad accomplishment for a team many felt at the beginning of the year would be battling it out with the rest of the NBA dregs in the lower regions of the standings, where failure is rewarded with better odds to land a blue-chip prospect at June's college draft.

And even if the 40-31 Raptors do not punch their playoff ticket Friday night, it is inevitable to happen soon enough as the team will still have 10 games left to try to eke out the defining win.

Still, Masai Ujiri, like most NBA general managers, is a superstitious sort and is not about to jinx his Raptors by uttering any sort of comment on the pending playoff coronation until it is all nice and official.

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"I am out scouting right now," Ujiri responded Thursday to an e-mail asking him to comment on Toronto's imminent post-season berth. "Will love to comment but will want to wait till it's done for sure."

Still, the folks around MLSE, the conglomerate that owns the Raptors, can hardly contain themselves in anticipation of at least one of the tenants at the ACC preparing for some meaningful, not to mention cash-inducing, playoff action.

"Every business metric is up with the basketball team, every single thing we measure," Hopkinson said. "What our fans are spending in our building on a nightly basis goes up and down depending on our won-loss record. When we're winning, they drink more beer, they eat bigger, they spend bigger.

"It's terrific and it makes us happy."

And once the playoffs roll around Hopkinson said the spending habits of those engaged, if not engorged, customers only increases.

"My feeling is that this marketplace hasn't quite woken up to the Raptors quite yet," said Hopkinson of the team that has averaged a healthy 18,087 for home games this season but has sold out only on seven occasions.

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Toronto's turnaround this season can be pegged to the trade in December, when Ujiri had the foresight to sign off on a franchise-altering deal that sent Rudy Gay, the team's most expensive player, to the Sacramento Kings.

Along with Gay, the Raptors shipped out seldom-utilized Aaron Gray and Quincy Acy to the Kings in exchange for several useful pieces, including guard Greivis Vasquez, swingman John Salmons and forwards Patrick Patterson and Chuck Hayes.

Although many viewed it as a waving of the white flag at the time, Gay's departure was actually a tonic for the team's offence, which had morphed into a tedious one-man show.

Although he was averaging a team-high 19.4 points in the 18 games he played for Toronto before the trade, Gay was also dominating the ball, putting up an average of 18.6 shots a game while hitting on just 38.8 per cent of those attempts.

That's not a good return for your money and the Raptors were floundering with a 6-12 record at the time of the trade.

Since then, the Toronto offence has flourished with more shooters such as DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and sophomore Terrence Ross all contributing on a regular basis to the offensive flow.

Since the trade, Toronto's successful field goal rate has jumped from 42.7 to 44.8 per cent. The Raptors share the ball more with assists up almost six a game to 22.8 and their scoring production has risen by almost five points per outing to 102.1.

The Raptors have also proven to be adept closers as evidenced by a +34 scoring margin (156-to-122) in the fourth quarter over the past six games. The Raptors lead the NBA with a +208 (1,766-to-1,558) scoring differential in the fourth quarter this season with their nearest rivals being the San Antonio Spurs (+126).

It has all resulted in the Raptors fashioning a 39-19 record since Gay moved on, putting them on the brink of a playoff berth last accomplished in 2008 when they went 41-41 under former head coach Sam Mitchell.

For all that work, the Raptors were one-and-done in the playoffs, dropping their opening round best-of-seven playoff series 4-1 to the Orlando Magic. That is not something the Raptors want to see happen again.

"It's big," Raptors forward Amir Johnson said about a team that's about to become playoff bound. "I'm happy for this organization. I'm happy for the country and the city. We just have to be ready to make some noise.

"It's been a long time since we've been in this situation and we're just ready and excited to make something happen."

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